Beth Ann Claybourne paused in front of the Olde Book Shoppe. The display of antique valentines caught her eye. She found them so lovely, she decided to go in for a closer look before catching her train home to Arlington Heights.
The little bell above the door tinkled as she opened the door. The smell of old books, dust, and old wood engulfed her as she entered. It was an unexpected aroma but, surprisingly, a welcomed one.
As she closed the shop door she heard someone shuffling across floor boards in a back room. A gentle voice welcomed her before she saw who it was, “Good afternoon, my dear. May I help you?” She turned and saw an elderly man peering at her over gold rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose.
His friendly smile made her feel welcomed. “I saw those lovely old Valentines in the front window. I thought I’d come in and browse before catching my train. Would that be alright?”
“Yes, of course. Please make yourself at home. My name is Morris. Call me if you need assistance.” He smiled and returned to the back room.
Beth Ann smiled and looked after him. For some reason, she felt as if she knew him. Perhaps it was his friendly manner. It had been a long time since she had experience friendliness from anyone. Perhaps it was her own fault. After receiving the official telegram from the War Department that her beloved husband, Mark, was missing in action, she shut herself off emotionally from everyone, as a safeguard. She agonized over having failed to tell her husband that she was pregnant with their only children, twins, Mark and Susan. Raising two children without her husband was an ordeal she dealt with as best she could. Now that they were 24-years-old and on their own, she felt more at ease in fulfilling her life alone.
The round table in the center of the room was lit from under a colorful cut glass shade hanging over the table. There were no Valentines on the table, but there was an open book which caught her attention. It appeared to be quite old but of very fine quality. She walked around the table to have a closer look.
A pair of cotton gloves lay in the gutter of the book. She noted the fineness of the parchment pages and decided to wear the gloves. There was nothing of interest on the pages open to her so, she turned the page.
She saw nothing of interest and continued turning several more pages. The last page she opened was even less interesting than the ones before. It appeared to be an illustration of an envelope on a table top, probably a desk, she thought. She wondered why she was even interested in this book. She decided to turn one more page. If nothing of interest showed itself, she would move on.
She began to lift the right-hand page, then stopped. There was something written on the envelope in the illustration. She bent over to get a better look. It was beautiful cursive handwriting spelling out a name that appeared similar to her own name. The middle initial was different, or was it?
The illustration took on a three-dimensional glow she had not noticed at first. It almost looked as if she could reach in and touch the envelope.
She ran her fingers along the end of the illustration, then jumped back a step when she realized that she was able to place her fingers inside the frame of the illustration.
She looked around, wondering if she should call out for Morris. Before she could decide, she heard Morris shuffling across the floorboards. The curtain parted and Morris entered the room, “Well, my dear, are you enjoying your visit?”
Beth Ann paused, staring a Morris.
“What is it, my dear? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“It’s this book, Morris.”
“Yes, isn’t it lovely. Quite old I understand. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. Did you find something of interest?”
Beth Ann paused, “Yes, I did, but I’m . . .”
“What is it, my dear?” Morris moved next to Beth Ann and the open book.
Beth Ann pointed to the envelope in the illustration.
“Yes, I see it,” Morris acknowledged, “how unusual.”
“It’s addressed to me.” Beth Ann whispered.
Morris looked more closely at the image. “Indeed. Is your name Beth Ann J. Claybourne?” He looked at Beth Ann.
“I thought the middle initial was an ‘I.’”
Morris looked at the book again. “No, I believe it is a J. Is that the correct spelling of your name?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Did you wish to take the envelope with you, my dear?”
Beth Ann stared at Morris in silence for a moment, “Is that possible?”
“Yes, of course, it is. This is a very old magical fairy tale book, unlike any other you’ve seen or ever will see. I’ve examined the book quite closely and it appears the spell cast upon it is not evil in any way. Only good can come from it. All you have to do is reach in and pick the envelope up. I’m guessing the message inside will benefit you in some way.”
“I’m afraid to reach in. You do it.” Beth Ann was not as frightened as before. Morris’ presence calmed her.
“It’s not addressed to me, my dear. It would be wrong of me to pick it up. You go ahead. There is nothing to fear.” He smiled.
Beth Ann moved closer to the book, looked at the illustration and then at Morris. He continued to smile. She cautiously put her hand over the illustration and then hesitantly reached in, touched the envelope, placed it between her thumb and index finger, and withdrawing it quickly from the book.
“See, you’ve got it, and no harm has been done. Now, you better run along, you don’t want to miss your train.”
Beth Ann looked at her watch, “Oh my goodness.” She walked quickly to the door, opened it, and turned toward Morris, “Thank you, Morris. Thank you very much.”
“You are most welcomed, my dear. Now hurry along.”
Beth Ann pulled the door shut and waved to Morris through the display window as she hurried to the train station.
Morris smiled, then rubbed his hands together with glee.
The train gave a slight jerk as it began its journey from the station train shed. Beth Ann placed her ticket on the clip fastened to the back of the seat in front of her.
She settled back and withdrew the envelope from her shoulder bag. The handwriting on the front of the envelope was not familiar to her but appeared to have been lovingly done. Carefully she opened the envelope. Dried rose petals slipped from inside the card, as she withdrew it, and fluttered into her lap.
She admired the front of the beautiful Valentine’s Day card and ran her fingers over the embossed design.
The first thing she noticed when she opened the card was the date at the top, February 14, 1996. The card had been written 20 years earlier. She looked to the bottom of the card and was taken aback at what she read. It was signed . . .
With all my love, Mark, your devoted husband.
But the handwriting was not his. Was this some kind of a joke, some kind of cruel joke? She could not imagine anyone doing such a thing. But there was Morris and the way this card came into her possession. She held the card up and began to read.
My dearest Beth Ann. Sister Mary John consented to write this note to you since I am no longer capable. The profound injuries I sustained in this useless war have left me completely useless as a man and to you as your husband.
Those of us in this situation were given a choice of either being reunited with our families or declared missing in action. I chose the latter but have since had misgivings. Thus, this note.
Perhaps it is selfish of me to provide even a glimmer of hope to a reunion. There is none, my dearest. It is impossible. My intent is to urge you to cherish the memory of our love for one another in the secret recesses of your heart, and open yourself to the opportunity of love from another.
Rest assured, I am being cared for by a team of selfless, loving individuals who will stay with me until my life comes to an end.
With all my heart I wish you the love we have been denied. May God be with you until we meet again in Paradise.
With all my love, Mark, your devoted husband.
Beth Ann laid the card in her lap as tears welled in her eyes. She turned and gazed at the scenery flying by as the train neared her destination.
Sleep would not come that night. Finally, she got up and went to her writing desk. She wrote a response to the note she had received 20 years too late. When she finished, an idea came to her.
What if she took her response back to the Olde Book Shoppe, and placed an envelope, with her response, through the book frame onto the table top.
The little bell above the door of the bookshop tinkled as she entered. “Ah, good morning, my dear.” Came the cheerful greeting from Morris.
Beth Ann told Morris what had happened and asked if he thought her plan to return a response into the book was possible.
“I don’t see why not. Let’s give it a try.”
They went to the magic fairy tale book, which remained open to the page she saw the day before. At first, the illustration appeared as nothing more than an illustration, but soon it began to take on the three-dimensional quality Beth Ann was familiar with.
Morris encouraged her when the moment came, “I think now is the time, my dear. See if you can place your card on the table.”
Beth Ann kissed the name of her husband she had written on the envelope, held her breath and slowly reached through the book frame, gently placed her envelop on the table.
She and Morris continued to watch.
“I don’t think anything will happen, Morris.” Beth Ann announced plaintively.
“Let us wait a while longer, my dear.” Morris encouraged.
“Look!” Beth Ann exclaimed.
They were amazed into silence as a beautiful feminine hand with a golden wedding band, white wrist cuff and black sleeve reached in and gently picked up the envelope.
“Oh, Morris. Do you think . . . ?"
“I don’t see why not, my dear. All things are possible with this book.” They were about to turn away when the beautiful hand reappeared and placed a single white rose in the place where Beth Ann’s envelope had been.
“Morris. May I take the rose?”
“Yes, of course. It is mean for you.”
Beth Ann reached in and gently picked up the rose. “Thank you, Morris. Thank you very much.”
“You are most welcomed, my dear. Now hurry along to your train.”
Beth Ann paused as she reached the Canal Street Bridge. She looked back and smiled. The Olde Book Shoppe was gone. She held the white rose to her nose, smiled, and completed her journey to the train station.